That pension reform plan's election talk, Mr Johnson

Former prime minister Harold Wilson said that a week was a long time in politics, so imagine what eight years must represent. Plenty of time to hammer out, mould, polish and finely tune a government policy, you might think.

Yet what the Government has to show for the best part of a decade on state and private pensions is risible. Sure, politics is at best an imprecise science full of tacks, turns and U-turns, but the ruins of the pensions landscape lying in front of us take some beating.

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, treated us to a six-point plan of principles for pension reform last week. In no particular order, they are to tackle poverty; give everybody a chance to save; affordability; clarity; a fairer deal for women (discriminated against for staying at home to raise a family); and to plough ahead with a broad consensus.

The desperate need to reform women's pensions rights aside, this hot air is little more than common sense. Never mind the fact that there will be no movement on any long-term UK pension planning until Adair Turner reports back in October with his Pension Commission recommendations on how Britons can best afford to retire. Such mealy-mouthed government proposals can mean only one thing: did someone say "election"?

An actual date has yet to be fashioned out of the current round of electioneering, but the publication of the six-point plan was little less than a stunt to try to wrest back control of the pre-polling day agenda. The pressure for pre-eminence in the pension debate has begun to tell.

In the past 10 days, Conservative leader Michael Howard vowed to boost pension payouts to the elderly, end means-testing for state benefits, and change the rules that can force elderly people to sell their homes to pay for long-term residential care.

The Liberal Democrats plan to raise the state pension to the minimum income guarantee (currently £105.45 for a single pensioner) and link future rises to earnings.

To be fair, there wasn't much else that Mr Johnson could say. Bound by duty to wait until the outcome of the Turner Report, his hands are tied. And in any case, except for positive noises over notions of a "citizen's pension" that depends on residency rules rather than time in the work-place, the cupboards are bare.

Meanwhile, his department has been desperately trying to keep a lid on public dissent over compensation payouts to thousands of workers, whose company pension schemes have gone bust since 1997.

Last week, it moved to clear up some of the confusion by announcing that employees who were within three years of their scheme's pension age would receive 80 per cent of their core retirement benefits. The money will come out of the £400m pensions "lifeboat", launched last year to help the 65,000 workers affected.

However, a question mark still hangs over the financial fate of those younger workers who won't qualify for this deal - as well as over the size of the fund deemed by many to be too small. Set against the gravity of their plight, Mr Johnson's six-point pension principles plan looks like a flimsy nod towards a much brighter future.

This is a shame because he is as good a choice of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions as we have had. He has proved approachable, sympathetic to the particular problems of the long-term savings industry, and open to new ideas.

It is to be hoped that, after the general election (assuming Labour wins) and Mr Turner checks in, he will be given a free hand to make a proper fist of the UK pensions industry rather than devote his time to politicking. We live in hope.

Independent Partners: 10 top tips for retirement. Get your free guide here

peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine